LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — During monsoon season, it only takes one big thunderstorm dropping heavy rain to overwhelm Las Vegas valley roads and fill washes.
Over the years, people have become caught in those high waters and had to call for help. Tim Szymanski with Las Vegas Fire & Rescue said that most of those situations are avoidable.
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“You just get one big super cell that comes in over the west side of the city and it only covers about 10, 12, 15 blocks, but you can get one to two inches and less than 15 minutes and that is millions and millions of gallons of water,” he said. “It inundates the streets and while you’re sitting there at a traffic light all of a sudden you got one or two inches and you can actually see the water rising as you’re sitting there. My advice to people is get off the road as quickly as you can.”
Szymanski has worked through 25 years of flooding in the valley. He said while flood protection has greatly improved, the dangers still show up in the usual places.
“You should stay away from the washes because it may not be raining where you’re at, but five miles up the road, even a mile up the road, it could be raining and a lot of water could be coming down into those washes,” he said. “We use them for parks now and soccer fields but that’s not the time to be in there because they could fill with water very quickly. We have homeless people that stay up underneath bridges over washes, all of a sudden the wash fills up with water and it can be 10, 15 feet feet rushing 40-miles-per-hour, it’s deadly and we have to go in with our boat. We have a special boat that we use and we have to rescue those people.”
All firefighters train to pull people out of rising waters in an emergency but if drivers knowingly cross barricades put up to keep you and firefighters safe, it could cost you up to $2,000 dollars in fines or possibly your life.
“It is amazing how people will drive around us, disregard us, yell obscenities at us and sometimes you have to go and rescue those people. So, don’t go around any barricades or anything like that. Stay away from that area. Flash flooding is a killer.”
Szymanski said every firefighter is trained in water rescue techniques and gear is on the trucks when flood alerts are in the forecast, so they are prepared.
He gives great credit to the Clark County Regional Flood Control District for years of constructing nearly 200 miles of flood channels and washes and detention basins which hold back and help steer water away from streets and neighborhoods to help protect people from flooding when it rains.